Distinctions.  Part 1: Randomness

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April 25, 2011 Tags: Divine Action & Purpose

Today's video features Loretta Cooper. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Today we are happy to introduce the first in a new series of videos from The BioLogos Foundation called “Distinctions”. These short videos look to clarify some of the important scientific questions at the heart of the science and faith dialogue. In our first video -- featuring biologists Sean Carroll and Kerry Fulcher, Smithsonian Human Origins Program director Rick Potts, and Old Testament scholar John Walton -- we look at the concept of randomness. While it is understood by many simply to mean blind, undirected and purposeless, in truth, randomness is far more complex and awe-inspiring than this overly-simplified definition. Unlike our previous posts for the Conversations series, we won't be including a full summary, as we feel the videos speak for themselves.

There are certainly more resources addressing the topic of randomness, however. For further reading, be sure to check out our FAQ on chance and God's sovereignty, Ard Louis’ scholarly essay “How Does the BioLogos Model Need to Address Concerns Christians Have About the Implications of its Science?”, and the series of blogs by BioLogos program director and cell biologist Kathryn Applegate, beginning with her posts “That’s Random!” and "Understanding Randomness".

Credits: This video was directed by Loretta Cooper, President of Clarity Media Strategies and was scripted by Loretta Cooper and BioLogos Program Director, Kathryn Applegate.

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.

Loretta Cooper established the Clarity Communications Group in which she uses her experience with network television news to help clients navigate the media world. She spent over a decade covering the White House, Capitol Hill and the Courts as a correspondent for ABC news. She has also worked with film makers and television producers to generate positive media coverage about their projects, teaching them how to tell their stories in a way that communicates effectively. She is the recipient of numerous awards for outstanding broadcasting, including the prestigious Du Pont Award for her coverage of the events of September 11th 2001 and the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Feature Reporting.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #58537

April 23rd 2011


Thank you for the article and the comment. 

I would like to point out that the article places evolution clearly in an ecological context in terms of Natural Selection, which again demonstrates the lack of consensus among scientists on how evolution really works. 

Also it uses another term which is better than random, which is contingent.  Now we have two terms better than random, indeterminant and contingent.  It seems to me that we need to use them instead of random, or make sure we explain that random does not mean random, but indeterminant or continguent. 

At the beginning of the article they quote Monod as saying that the creation of life was an “accident,” a random event.  Now knowing his world view that should not be a surprise, but I do not think any believer would agree.  Scientific naturalism might take this stance, but a overall philosophy would not.

If one says that continguencies are necessary to allow for changes in nature, to allow for evolution, then Christians say that God built continguencies into the Creation, because, unlike philosophy and science, God and Christianity thrive on change.  The issue here seems to be change, not chance.  Christianity is in favor of evolution, because it is in favor of change.  Jesus told people they had to Repent, which means “Change your way of thinking and doing!”   

The work of the Holy Spirit is to change lives and to change situations.  God is continguent, unpredictable in many ways, which is the reason why we must not get too comfortable with our theology was many seem to be.  

If one values the Word, then one must value the meaning of individual words as they express and conserve meanings vital to our understanding of ourselves, our environment, and God.  When we get lazy and preoccupied with self, we allow confusion and misunderstanding to pollute out thinking and our culture, which is the way to disaster. 

BioLogos seems to take a passive position, rather than the prophetic stance that I think we need in the world today.   

Roger A. Sawtelle - #58549

April 23rd 2011


I am not really arguing with you, but with those who seem to be misusing words.  However, predictions which are less than 100% are still predictions. If they are right, they are right.  If they are wrong, they are wrong.    

100% indicates a guarantee, which of course not can make unless they control the weather.  Also we know that there can be local variations that are not accounted for,  computer programs some times have glitches, and forecasters just want wiggle room in case they are wrong, that is cta.

Random should mean random and not something else.  Contingent and nondeterminant should mean just that and not random.  

Ashe - #59112

April 26th 2011

We are all personally the result of pure randomness. 

Roger A. Sawtelle - #59129

April 26th 2011

We are all personally the result of pure randomness.

Speak for yourself, Ashe.


Ashe - #59258

April 27th 2011

Let me know the next time a sperm deterministically finds an egg. 

Jon Garvey - #59327

April 27th 2011

“Pure” randomness…

That opens an interesting debate. It means that selective breeding is also the result of pure randomness, because nobody chooses which egg and which sperm unite. My pedigree labrador was the result of “pure” chance.

You would be better to say, “there are random elements to our existence as individuals, subject (a) to the constraints of human choice of partner, (b) the unknown constraints within the biological process and (c) the theological constraints to randomnness pointed in the thread above.

Not nearly so pithy, though, if one is more careful with words.

R Hampton - #59583

April 27th 2011

Of the millions of sperm and hundreds of eggs, it’s random as to which two will meet. The constraint is that both are a subset of their parent’s full genome, plus/minus any mutations.

Thus selective breeding is random (hence the selection part). Breeders
are not guaranteed that any or all within a litter will meet a given
breed’s criteria (ears too long, muzzle too short, etc.). Those that do,
however, are selected—sold as purebreds and/or used as breeding

Roger A. Sawtelle - #59430

April 27th 2011


If your parents met and had sex “by random chance,” then maybe you are right about yourself.

This does raise again the question of how doe we use the term “random chance.”  Continguent, yes, random chance, NO.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #59615

April 27th 2011

RHampton wrote:

The constraint is that both are a subset of their parent’s full genome, plus/minus any mutations.

Isn’t that a major constraint, which nullifies the randomness of the sperm and egg pairing?  Breeders are not guarranteed that all of the litter will meet standards, but if one parent is not “purebred,” none of the litter can be labelled “purebred,” correct?

Of course when two dogs get together “naturally” the intention of nature is to produce more dogs, and that is what they do.  There is no random aspect about it.  Dogs give birth to more dogs and cats give birth to more cats.  They are continguent individually, but they are not random.

To say that a process is random, because it is not 100% determined, is like saying something is blue, when it is in fact purple, which of course is a combination of blue and red.  It is a distortion of the truth, a partial truth that can and does cause confusion and miscommunication.

It is the distortion that western dualism can and has created.     

R Hampton - #59662

April 27th 2011

Isn’t that a major constraint, which nullifies the randomness of the sperm and egg pairing?

No, not at all—for example, Robertsonian translocations are inherited; the balanced forms are generally neutral whereas the unbalanced forms are generally negative. In rare circumstances (where cousin marriages are still practiced), parents with the same Robertsonian translocations produce children with a set of Robertsonian translocations, for example

The 44 Chromosome Man - And What He Reveals About Our Genetic Past

There is no random aspect about it.  Dogs give birth to more dogs and cats give birth to more cats.

Well, foxes gave birth to wolves which gave birth to dogs. Trace the ancestry far enough into the past and you will find Miacis, the presumed common ancestor of dogs and cats:

The hind limbs were longer than the forelimbs, the pelvis was very doglike in form and structure, and some specialized traits were present in the vertebrae. It had retractable claws, agile joints for climbing, and binocular vision. Miacis and related forms had brains that were relatively larger than those of the creodonts, and the increase in brain size as compared with body size probably reflects an increase in intelligence.

So how does speciation occur? One way is by genetic isolation wherein subpopulations develop different numbers of chromosomes. Over generations, different sets of mutations accrue in the subpopulations and they become more and more physically distinct, diverging in their adaptations/environmental niches. The Middle East Blind Mole Rat (Nannospalax ehrenbergi), for example, is in the midst of splintering: subpopulations of 48, 52, 54, 56 and 58 chromosomes are found from Turkey to Israel to Jordan. The emergence of Man, with 46 chromosomes unlike all other Apes (48), may well have started this way.

I should note that wolves and dogs (and coyotes and jackals) have 78 chromosomes unlike foxes—while genus Vulpes has a tremendously variety, none have 78: Red fox 34, Kit fox 50, Fennec Fox 64, Gray fox 66, etc.

penman - #59908

April 28th 2011

This discussion - as it appears to me - is “evolving” into an exchange of views that are shedding little light. And that’s because different contributors are putting very different meanings into “random” or “chance”.

Let’s take one of these meanings. Randomness or chance could be defined as an event that happens without any intelligent agency controlling or guiding it. That would actually be a pretty standard dictionary definition. Biological example (used above): a particular sperm uniting with a particular egg.

There are problems, however. First, some kinds of non-intelligently-guided event happen according to a regularity that makes them very predictable. That’s because the events unfold in harmony with physical structures & properties which can be known. Knowing the underlying physics, one can predict the outcome. Would we want to call the outcome random? For example, given a doctor’s knowledge of a specific medical condition in a specific patient, he might be able with uncanny accuracy to predict the outcome in detail. The outcome isn’t controlled or guided by an intelligent agency, but I don’t think we’d call it random.

But the second problem is more germane to us here. I’ve been assuming all along that the “intelligent agency” is human, or at least a finite mind of some sort. But one of the most basic points of theism is the existence of a non-human infinite intelligence, or something best described that way. Namely, God. How can the methods of human science tell us that He is not intelligently guiding events which - on the finite level - lack intelligent guidance? Human science can’t tell us that God either did or didn’t guide that sperm to that egg, any more than it can tell us the ontology & current activities of the archangel Michael.

Once we contemplate God, the whole argument about “random” moves to a different level. The questions then are likely to be, quite simply, whether God exists, & then an intra-mural debate among theists about the extent of His sovereignty/providence over created reality.

And now back to the coffee.

Ashe - #60004

April 28th 2011

You might be interested in the solution that Michael Ruse and Mike Gene serendipitously converged on with regard to this issue (although Mike Gene gets a little more specific). 

Roger A. Sawtelle - #59979

April 28th 2011


I do not think that that is the question.  It may be for you and others, but if you look at the dictionary definition for random, and since we are talking about words, the dictionary should be the standard, it does use the term guided or unguided.  The word means haphazard, without order.  

The question is more to the structure of the universe than to the existence of God, however if the universe is without order and events happened haphazardly in some arbitrary sequence, one would have to question the existence of God, which many who hold this view do.

My problem is not with the word or the concept, but that it is misused to mean contingent.  Christians live by faith, not by sight.  We do not know exactly what tomorrow brings, and yet we also know that God is faithful and what God does through nature and history is consistent with what God has done previously.  

Reality is not predetermined, nor is it random.  People are not prone to change, but they can and do change their ways.  Life forms have changed though time by evolution, but that change has been orderly, not revolutionary as random change would dictate.

Is evolutionary contingent change consistent with the God we know through the Bible?  Most definitely.  Is revolutionary random change consistent with the God we know through the Bible?  I don’t think so.    

R Hampton - #60126

April 28th 2011

I think of it this way:

Judas’s betrayal, which is an absolutely necessary moment in Salvation history, was a decision left entirely up to Judas via Free Will. Now some would argue that means God handed control over to Judas, but omniscience gives God the capacity to create/know Judas by his nature (character) and all of his future actions. Thus the freely choice of Judas was accounted for in God’s grand plan.

Randomness, in whatever way you wish to describe it (within our universe/the natural realm), operates by the same principle. God gave a contingent (random) nature to quarks, the replicating mechanism of DNA, and a great number of other things. Many Christians argue that this means God gave control over to Randomness/Nature. But despite the freedom of Nature to ‘explore’ vast ranges possibilities, God knew all outcomes - independently and interrelatedly - and accounted for them accordingly.

Granted, this is counterintuitive to human experience, but God does not share our limits in understanding Creation’s contingency. Hence Divine Providence is compatible with Randomness and Free Will.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #60164

April 28th 2011

R Hampton wrote:

Judas’s betrayal, which is an absolutely necessary moment in Salvation history, was a decision left entirely up to Judas via Free Will.

While I agree that God gave Judas the ability to make the decision to betray Jesus, certainly this was not a random decision.  The Bible seems to convey the message that he did it out of greed.  There is some speculation that he did it so Jesus had to choose between death on the Cross and leading a revolt against the Romans.  

Definitely God grants humans the ability to think and make decisions, good and bad.  There is also the indication that Judas was under the power of Evil and not a true follower of Jesus.  I also think that humans do not have the power to make fully rational decisions until they recognize the power of the Word over the universe. 

Again Freedom and randomness are not the same thing.  I do not choose in a random manner.  I freely choose in a disciplined orderly manner.  Contingent and random are also different.  Contingent means dependent or interdependent with other factors.  Random means something happens which is independent of all other factors.

I do not think that the Crucifixion of Jesus was contingent on the betrayal by Judas, even though he certainly played a role.  His death was contingent upon the anger of the Jewish religious leaders, who were able to get others, including Pilate, to cooperate with their plot to get rid of Jesus. 

R Hampton - #60213

April 28th 2011

Random means something happens which is independent of all other factors.

Rrandom means that outcome can not be predicted. A classic example from
Physics is the molecular diffusion of gas molecules. The collisions,
and resulting vectors, are random (can not be predicted), yet the causes
are known and dependent on other factors like the difference in thermal
energy and  the medium the molecules are moving through, and the net
result is predictable (an even distribution of the gas).

Again Freedom and randomness are not the same thing.

I said was that the operational principle was the same. God did not
choose for Judas even though Judas’s choice was absolutely essential for
the history of Salvation.

From a human perspective, one could
say that God’s ceded control to Judas’s free will. Judas could have
chosen to remained loyal to Jesus, therefore God could not guarantee
that Judas would betray Jesus because God did not directly dictate
Judas’s decision.

Operationally, that’s no different than a
necessary mutation within a pre-human ancestor. Randomness allows for
the possibility that the DNA in question could have mutated differently,
or not at all, therefore God could not guarantee the evolution of Man
because God did not directly dictate the bio-chemistry that lead to the

In either case, all the events that follow are contingent upon this one
particular outcome chosen/realized from a range of possibilities.

R Hampton - #60243

April 28th 2011

The point being, Free Will and Randomness are realities within Creation. Both Man and Nature, as contingent agents, determine one outcome from a set of possibilities. It does not matter how that determination is made. What does matter is that God need not exert direct control over contingent agents to “guarantee” particular outcomes - God’s omniscience and divine providence are the constraining limits to said outcomes.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #60242

April 28th 2011

R Hampton,

What I am saying is, that either ther dictionaries are wrong, or science is using words very differently than standard usage found in dictionaries.  The world is a vcery complex reality.  When we use words that do not seem to convey this reality, serious problems arise as we have seen.

I find no basis in the dictionaries that I have consulted that provide any basis for that definition.  How can you or anyone say that a word means something different from what the dictionary says it means. 

Now maybe I can see how people might call something random, if it seems to be random even though they know it is not, but most of the examples given are partly random and partly not, yet are called purely random. 

Are you saying that God the Father wanted Judas to betray God the Son?  I really do not think so.

Randomness allows for the possibility that the DNA in question could have mutated differently, or not at all, therefore God could not guarantee the evolution of Man because God did not directly dictate the bio-chemistry that lead to the mutation.

This type of randomness works differently.  God did create the bio-chemistry that created life and created us.  God created the evolutionary process of variation and natural selection that makes evolutionary change possible.  God also created the physical environment that has evolved from a watery soup (the primal ocean?) to the diverse ecology of today.  

Random variation, which includes mutations, is only one aspect of this process, which makes possible, if not probable, that human life will exist.  Natural selection is the determining one and most scientists say that it is not random, but they do not say what it is and how it works.  If it is based on the ecology, the environment, this answers one of the great mysteries of  science, which strangely few seem interested in solving.  It also gives God and God’s magnificent order and plan another way to shape us as well as our world.   

We know that our universe is structured for the creation of life and some say for human life, so we cannot say it happened randomly.  It happened because it could happen, which is not to say that it had to happen.  There well may be other planets in the universe very similar to ours where life did not happen or happened differently.  We don’t know and it really doesn’t matter.    

There are many other contingent events that have made possible human society as we know it today

R Hampton - #60273

April 28th 2011

Wikipedia has a good summary of what “randomness” means, in practical terms, to the sciences:

The fields of mathematics, probability, and statistics use formal definitions of randomness. In mathematics, a random variable is a way to assign a value to each possible outcome of an event. In probability and statistics, a random process is a repeating process whose outcomes follow no describable deterministic pattern, but follow a probability distribution, such that the relative probability of the occurrence of each outcome can be approximated or calculated. For example, the rolling of a fair six-sided die in neutral conditions may be said to produce random results, because one cannot know, before a roll, what number will show up. However, the probability of rolling any one of the six rollable numbers can be calculated.


Are you saying that God the Father wanted Judas to betray God the Son?  I really do not think so.

No. God wanted Judas to betray Jesus no more then he wanted Adam and Eve to sin. However, Salvation history is absolutely contingent upon the choice freely made by Judas.

So, does this mean God gambled our Salvation on Judas’s whim, or that God had to force Judas to choose betrayal so as to guarantee our Salvation? Well, if you accept that Divine Providence does not nullify Free Will, then Judas can act freely and God can plan accordingly and there need not be any conflict. By the same operational principle, Divine Providence does not nullify Randomness.

R Hampton - #60282

April 28th 2011

It should come as no surprise that Martin Luther did not accept Free Will or Radomness, setting the stage for the Protestant rejection of Evolution.

...It would certainly be a hard question, I allow-indeed, an insoluble one - if you sought to establish both the foreknowledge of God and the freedom of man together; for what is harder, yea, more impossible, than maintaining that contraries and contradictories do not clash?

...the majesty of God’s power and will, against which we have no rights, but which has full rights against us to do what it pleases. No injustice is done to us, for God owes us nothing.

...omnipotence and foreknowledge of God, I repeat, utterly destroy the doctrine of ‘free-will’

- The Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther, 1525

Jon Garvey - #60386

April 29th 2011

Not a fair use of Luther there, sir. Luther’s whole theme in “Bondage of the Will” was not the absolute determinism of God, ie that man’s will is in bondage to God’s omnipotence, but that man’s will is in bondage to sin, and that therefore only the sovereignty of God’s grace can liberate him.

As part of that, of course, he needs to establish that God’s will is ultimately sovereign over even man’s liberated will, ie over all contingent events, but that is compatible with the Reformed doctrine of providence.

Indeed, there’s not really much space between the arguments in “Bondage of the Will” and those in Calvin’s “Bondage and Liberation of the Will.” Nor indeed between any of the early Reformers, to whom God’s sovereignty in grace (and therefore also in all things contingent) was axiomatic. That was actually the first doctrine defended by Luther’s movement against their accusers (by Carlstadt).

In the context of this thread, Luther’s words come under the heading of “randomness is not random to God” rather than “There is no such thing as randomness.”

Protestantism has really only rejected evolution en masse in the USA, which is so often forgotten by those who are immersed in that culture. And Luther was by no means the reason for that - there’s too much Arminianism in the Pietistic tradition for “Bondage of the Will” even to get a look in. Indeed, an Arminian Dutchman borrowed my original copy over 10 years ago to refute it, and still hasn’t given it back. Probably because he couldn’t.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #60582

April 29th 2011

R Hampton,

Yes, there are random processes, but evolution and most other natural processes are not random, but are mixed with some random elements and some determined elements.  Thus it is inaccurate to label them as random, and certainly not as purely random as has been done on this blog.  Certainly the probability of two dogs mating for giving birth to baby dogs is not random, but 100%.
As for Judas and free will, this seems to me to.pint out the fact that human history is very different from natural science and we ignore this at our peril.  

Let me clarify.  First of all, Judas is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Judah.  Judah of course is the name of the dominant tribe of Israel, the name of the loyal kingdom of Judah and the word that forms the name of the Judaism. 

Sadly Judas represents the conflict of Christianity with Judaism.  However this is not the right way to see it.  The Jews at this time were God’s Chosen People, but they used that position to look down on Gentile pagans, which was not right.  Persons who educated in Greek culture on the other hand were justly proud of their great language and culture.  They looked down on others including the Jews as uncivilized Barbarians.

God the Father decided to send God the Son into this divided world to bring reconciliation.  Jesus made it possible for Greeks to worship the one true God, while not edenying their culture.  While the Jews might have been glad to see their opponents embrace their faith and welcomed them as brothers, of course for the most part it didn’t happen that way.

The Jews expected their Messiah to unite the world under their leadership.  God planned to unite the world under God the Son’s leadership.  The Jews expected their Messiah to kill and drive out the Roman pagans.  God planned to conquer the Roman pagans with his faith of love.

For whatever reason Judas was a child of his times.  His decision to betray Jesus is not explained, but clearly he did not understand what God was doing in Jesus as did none of the disciples.  If he was a Zealot as some suggest, he sought to force the hand of God the Father and Jesus by making Him lead the Jews into a Messianic war against the Romans.  All people of God must be careful not to impose their ideas upon God as Judas may have done and Pharisees and the Saducees definitely did.           


R Hampton - #60610

April 29th 2011

Random means exactly what I described, and I suspect your difficulty with the term is inconsistent, and highly selective. For example, I doubt you have any problem describing a roll of the dice or a spin of the wheel as random despite the fact that the outcome is a limited set.

And I don’t understand what you wrote about Judas has to do with my contention that the choice was freely made by Judas. In contrast, Luther would have said that  Judas had no control over the decision for Man is bound to either the will of God or Satan and can do no more then what the great powers decide.

Jon Garvey - #60640

April 30th 2011

What Luther actually did say in the book was:

“I distinguish two necessities: one I call necessity of force, referring to action; the other I call necessity of infallibility, referring to time. Let him who hears me understand that I am speaking of the latter, not the former; that is, I am not discussing whether Judas became a traitor willingly or unwillingly, but whether it was infallibly bound to come to pass that Judas should willingly [my italics] betray Christ at a time determined by God.”

penman - #60630

April 30th 2011

R. Hampton #60282
“It should come as no surprise that Martin Luther did not accept Free
Will or Radomness, setting the stage for the Protestant rejection of

Well, the Lutheran rejection, maybe…. Or at least, the confessional Lutheran (Missouri Synod et al). But it’d be difficult to project that onto the whole of Protestantism. And very difficult to project it onto Reformed Protestantism, which has never had a monolithic attitude to evolution. It was a Reformed theologian, James McCosh, who made Princeton “safe” for evolution. Have we had a BioLogos article on McCosh? Any takers?

Divine sovereignty doesn’t necessarily entail the rejection of “randomness”, because it all depends on definitions. Certainly divine sovereignty doesn’t mean rejecting randomness as the unpredictable. God may be able to predict everything, but we can’t. To the human mind, the unpredictable remains predictably constant.

Also, your own exposition of divine sovereignty in relation to contingency can find strong echoes in some parts of the (never monolithic) Reformed tradition. Our thinkers sometimes distinguish between God’s decree & God’s effective causality. Everything is embraced in His eternal decree, but not everything is effectively caused by God - notably sin.

But we can include other things along with sin: natural events that have an inbuilt contingency. God knows that, if He doesn’t intervene, event A will occur by the impulse of the natural power of whatever “thing” is involved (the wind, subatomic particles). He chooses not to intervene. So event A occurs. At the created level, there’s true contingency.

But event A is still embraced in God’s decree. He could have chosen to prevent it. By choosing to allow it, He has made it certain, from the standpoint of His eternal & immutable decree. The event happens certainly but contingently (or freely, if it’s a moral agent’s act). Possibly a paradox, but both things seem to be there in scripture.

Can’t we apply this to those events which may occur in evolution, where we deem the events not to be effectively caused by God, nor predictable on the basis of the determinism of natural causes? They happen by their own natural impulse. But they aren’t thereby independent of God’s decree. At its most basic, He could have chosen to create a different universe where He knew those events wouldn’t happen.

The corollary, of course, is that the exact outcomes of evolution, while arguably random in some respects to us, are all known & decreed by God in His eternal mind & purpose.

In other words, you don’t have to be an open theist or a process theologian to acknowledge randomness or contingency. Unless, that is, you *define* the random or the contingent as “metaphysically independent of God’s decree” - unforeknown, unplanned - which seems to reduce God to a deistic spectator. But I don’t know why anyone would want to define things that way. It’s certainly nothing to do with science, & everything to do with metaphysics.

Chris Massey - #60650

April 30th 2011

I’m confused as to why the clip of William Lane Craig was included. He’s clearly referring to the physical constants of the universe being fine-tuned so as to permit life. I don’t think it fair to lump him in with Meyer and Behe as though he is arguing for the intelligent design of biological systems. Even Francis Collins makes the universal constant fine-tuning argument in his book, The Language of God.

Merv - #60678

May 1st 2011

It doesn’t seem out-of-bounds to insist that “random” comes (necessarily) with implied constraints, and that should always be considered a given—though the specification of those constraints is often needed.  To see this try to imagine any scenario in which something ‘random’ is to happen and will allegedly be free of constraint.  I can’t imagine any such thing existing.  Even the simplest game of “guess the number I am choosing ...” comes with at least implied (and more often specified) constraints of “between 1 and x”.  Without specifying range of magnitude (and precision) there is no such thing as expressing a purely random number.  No matter what number you settled on—if it were somehow “without constraint”, it would necessarily have too much magnitude and too much precision to fully express it in any finite period of time.  All this is a long way of saying that if randomness and constraint aren’t allowed as coexisting concepts, then the word “random” is denied any meaningful use whatsoever.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #60682

May 1st 2011


It doesn’t seem out-of-bounds to insist that “random” comes (necessarily) with implied constraints, and that should always be considered a given—though the specification of those constraints is often needed. To see this try to imagine any scenario in which something ‘random’ is to happen and will allegedly be free of constraint.

Since it is axiomatic that anything is possible, rthen why not say that everything is “random,” and so nothing is determined.  On the ohter hand we could say that almost everything has some constraint so everything is determined and nothing is random.  
This is the fallacy of the missing middle, everything must black or white, never gray.
Everyone must be young or old, never “middle-aged.”

As I think I have pointed out, evolution has two aspects, variation and natural selection. Only the first can be called random, and there change occurs gradually only within very narrow limits or contraints.  Since natural selection is NOT random, how does evolution merit the label of random more than the label determined.

Our lives are determined in this human world by the forces that shape it.  That does not mean that there are no accidents, no unforeseen events that shape our lives, but basically our lives are shaped by the decisions that we make about how we want to live and who we want to be. 

These are not events that happen at random by chance, they are intellectual decisions and spiritual choices.  We must decide if our lives will be gtoverned by the power of Good, or the powers of not good.  Free will is not random, it is based on our ability to make real choices.  Free will means that we are not governed by random chance, but we are self determining. 

Merv - #60689

May 1st 2011

Amen to your lament of the “missing middle”, Roger.  I’m totally with you on that, although I would include in that “middle” that our lives do have some parts determinism (a la our free will to choose) and some parts apparent randomness (from our personal perspective—not from God’s or even from other people’s perspectives necessarily).  E.g.  a driver innocently driving through an intersection at just the wrong time may be hospitalized in a life-changing experience if he got hit by a drunk driver running a red light.  We can call it “bad luck” or randomness that the victim happened to be at the wrong place & wrong time, though the other driver’s choice to drink & drive certainly would not be considered random.  Some may also insist that God’s sovereignty was in operation over the whole thing, though we don’t usually push this as we comfort a victim or their family.  In the same way, the flipping coin’s outcome is “deterministic” due to air currents, gravity, trajectory, etc.  But it is still effectively random *from our point of view* since we don’t have the computational power to sufficiently predict its outcome.

One other note:  “...since it is axiomatic that anything is possible…”
Where did that come from, and how could that possibly be considered axiomatic?  In fact, I suggest its negation to be closer to axiomatic.  Two plus two will not be five tomorrow.  A fair die rolled will not yield a result of 7.  God will not be faithless.  Many things are not possible and outside the reach of all random possibility.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #60698

May 2nd 2011

Merv wrote:

 I’m totally with you on that, although I would include in that “middle” that our lives do have some parts determinism (a la our free will to choose) and some parts apparent randomness (from our personal perspective—not from God’s or even from other people’s perspectives necessarily).

Thank you for your comment.  It just happened that yesterday I heard a great sermon about how people are NOT their situation.  We are more than our circumstances because God has given us the power and freedom to go beyond our circumstances.  We are people of God, not people limited by isues and problems.  

This is the main point I was trying to make, which can easily be overlooked when we start looking at whether our lives are the product of chance or determined.  Really neither term fits.  Our lives are shaped primarily by our own choices.  I would say that this is particularly true of a Christian, which doesn’t mean that she or he earns salvation, which is a free gift from God, but he or she choses to accept that gift freely given.

As for “nonbelievers” they do not accept the gift.  

As for God’s sovereignty, of course that is very important.  What we need to always remember is that God uses divine sovereignty for human good.  God chooses to work with God’s people to carry out God’s will as an expression of God’s love for humans and all of God’s Creation. 

God is not above the fray of human life implementing God’s plan.  God enters into the fray of human life to support God’s people and help them carry out God’s will.  Of course God’s people includes both less and more than the visible church.  God always provides a Remnant.        

A fair die rolled will not yield a result of 7. God will not be faithless. Many things are not possible and outside the reach of all random possibility.

You are basing you understanding of things on God’s faithfulness, but things will change, the universe someday will not exist, the earth will disappear, but God will not change.  Thus anything is possible and even probable when considered in the long, long run, but Christians do not live by sight, but by faith. 

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